He began his meteoric career in exile as his ancestors fled from the executions of the royal family by Eric Bloodaxe. It is even said that he was bought as a slave in Estonia. After a childhood spent in Novgorod under the protection of King Valdemar, Olaf fought for the emperor Otto III. under the Wendish king Burislav, whose daughter he had married.
On her death he followed the example of his countrymen, and harried in France and the British Isles, until in a good day for the peace of those countries, he was converted to Christianity by a hermit in the Scilly Islands, and his marauding expeditions ceased since he would not harry those of his new faith.
In England he married Gyda, sister of Olaf Kvaran, king of Dublin, and it was only after some years spent in administering her property in England and Ireland that he set sail for Norway, fired by reports of the unpopularity of its ruler Earl Haakon. Arriving in Norway in the autumn of 995, he was unanimously accepted as king, and at once set about the conversion of the country to Christianity, undeterred by the obstinate resistance of the people. It has been suggested that Olaf's ambition was to rule a united, as well as a Christian Scandinavia, and we know that he made overtures of marriage to Sigrid, queen of Sweden, and set about adding new ships to his fleet, when negotiations fell through owing to her obstinate heathenism. He made an enemy of her, and did not hesitate to involve himself in a quarrel with King Sweyn I of Denmark by marrying his sister Thyre, who had fled from her heathen husband Burislav in defiance of her brother's authority.
Both his Wendish and his Irish wife had brought Olaf wealth and good fortune, but Thyre was his undoing, for it was on an expedition undertaken in the year roco to wrest her lands from Burislav that he was waylaid off the island Svold, near Rügen, by the combined Swedish and Danish fleets, together with the ships of Earl Haakon's sons. The battle ended in the annihilation of the Norwegians. Olaf fought to the last on his great vessel the "Long Snake," the mightiest ship in the North, and finally leapt overboard and was no more seen.
Full of energy and daring, skilled in the use of every kind of weapon, genial and open-handed to his friends, implacable to his enemies, Olaf's personality was the ideal of the heathendom he had trodden down with such reckless disregard of his people's prejudices, and it was no doubt as much owing to the popularity his character won for him as to the strength of his position that he was able to force his will on the country with impunity. After his death he remained the hero of his people, who whispered that he was yet alive and looked for his return. "But however that may be," says the story, "Olaf Tryggvason never came back to his kingdom in Norway."
Original text from 1911 EB
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